That Clint Eastwood has come out for Donald Trump will come as no surprise. They are both monoliths, Eastwood in Hollywood, Trump in the world of politics; Eastwood carved out of the sandstone of the Old West, Trump out of the soft clay of fickle public opinion.
To those of us of liberal bent, who in our more idealistic years, used to make a note of the politics of Hollywood stars in order to determine whether we would deign to continue going to see their films, Eastwood was always anathema. He was not alone.
It seems that most actors whose careers are substantially made up of westerns are politically right-wing, and often on the extreme edges. Presumably all those hours spent on location in the desert sun cooked their brains, even as hours in the saddle numbed their behinds. Or it may have been the other way round.
John Wayne would have been for Trump. So, without doubt, would James Stewart and Gary Cooper.
In the mad, bad days of McCarthyism in the 1950s, Cooper (the son of a Bedfordshire solicitor, incidentally) was an enthusiastic ‘friendly witness’ before the House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC, you may recall, was devoted to rooting out communists wherever they might be lurking and where, apparently, they did most of their lurking was Hollywood and Washington, in that order.
Wayne would have been happy to testify in front of HUAC (and on millions of television sets) as well but was not called, perhaps hampered by the perception that he had avoided military service in the Second World War. The most vitriolic of the red-baiting super-patriots was Ward Bond, Wayne’s rugged sidekick in many a John Ford western. Both Wayne and Bond were prominent, as Cooper had been, in the Motion Picture Alliance, a red-baiting organisation that wrecked many a Hollywood career in the cause of the anti-communist purge of that time. They have long passed on, of course, but their shame survives them.
I suppose we Trump-mockers ought to be thankful that very few westerns are made these days.
Who else is there in Hollywood these days to campaign for a man like Trump?
Eastwood is the last of the Hollywood monoliths. His endorsement of Trump may be regarded as an in memoriam gesture to his weather-worn, brain-cooked forebears. To be fair to those who have fallen, their films purveyed no more than mainstream conservative themes in the guise of old-fashioned frontier virtues. We could identify with the heroes of the Old West, even if they now seem to have been ardent law-enforcing white-supremacists because the bad guys were palpably worse, thoroughly evil, and well deserving of their premature consignment to Boot Hill.
Eastwood’s early westerns, especially the ludicrous Italian forms, followed the same track but a few of his later non-western films went much further, some coming close to embracing the values of hard-core fascism. I’m thinking in particular of the ‘Dirty Harry’ series, in which Detective Harry Callaghan dispatches bad guys with a sadistic leer and a glib remark, of which “Go ahead, make my day” may be the most memorable.
And I am not sure to what extent Eastwood’s soft-core vigilantism might have shaded into hard-core if he had not been cannily aware of the potential impact on box-office receipts in the politically more moderate enclaves of the Eastern seaboard.
Eastwood wowed them then, and probably still does, in America’s middle-west. This is where Trump must draw his strength come November. But who else with the potential appeal to the strange people in those strange insular American hinterlands might be found to stump for Trump?
Tom Cruise might have been a good bet, but that is only a guess, and anyway it is doubtful that his Scientology masters would allow him off the reservation. Ditto John Travolta. To my knowledge, Trump has yet to announce a celebrity endorsement other than Clint, even though Hilary Clinton can already count on an entire galaxy of star sponsors, including that estimable actress Meryl Streep. (Incidentally, I wonder how Eastwood and Streep got along on the set of The Bridges of Madison County; famously, would be my bet.)
If star backing counts for anything (which I tend to doubt) Clinton should win the election hands down.
That would leave Eastwood and Trump to ride into a metaphorical sunset, friendless and thankless, forever doomed to wander from one sad cow town to the next.
One can, metaphorically, only hope so.
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